Walmart won the Pleasanton City Council's approval in a 4-1 vote Tuesday night to open one of its Neighborhood Market grocery stores in the long-vacant Nob Hill supermarket on Santa Rita Road.
The vote ended more than half a year of often rancorous discussions among council members and in public meetings both over the right of Walmart to put its own store at the Nob Hill site, which has been approved for a grocery since 1982, and the concern some on the council and in the public expressed over the Walmart organization, itself.
Councilman Matt Sullivan, an outspoken foe of Walmart and Tuesday night's lone vote against the measure, made a last ditch effort to scuttle the council's action by pressing for consideration of emergency legislation that would require a more extensive review of Walmart's application.
Failing to gain support on that move, he later asked the council to consider an ordinance that would require all future grocery stores to undergo an extensive environmental impact review, whether they were replacing an existing operation or not. That, too, failed to gain any support from others on the council.
Although Walmart can now move forward to obtain operating permits to open its Neighborhood Market later this year, the company, itself, did not receive wholehearted support.
Sullivan, in a series of statements, warned that the Walmart grocery will "damage the local economy and local workers."
"This is not about stopping Walmart, it's about stopping damage to the economy is brings," Sullivan said. "If Walmart opens, it will be at the expense of another grocery store."
Sullivan, who opposed Safeway's bid to open its new Lifestyle store on Bernal Avenue across from the Fairgrounds, blamed the recent sale of Gene's Fine Foods on competition from that new Safeway. Other supermarkets are likely to close once the new Walmart grocery opens, too, he said.
Despite her vote to support the council's action Tuesday night, which actually was to deny Sullivan's appeal to reverse its earlier approval of a zoning administrator's ruling to approve Walmart's application to move into the Nob Hill market, Mayor Jennifer Hosterman bashed Walmart as a national retailer that under-pays its employees and provides inadequate benefits.
"Walmart is sucking the lifeblood out of communities across the state," she said. "I never shop there."
"But since we already have a (regular) Walmart store in Pleasanton," she added, "I don't have the luxury of fighting that fight. I'll tell you though, I have a law degree and I am a fighter. If we had entered into this discussion years ago when Walmart wanted to come here, we might have been able to stop them."
However, others on the council were more supportive of Walmart, which annually pays the city's second highest individual retail store taxes after Macy's home furnishing store.
"For three years, the (Nob Hill store) neighborhood has not had a grocery store," said Councilwoman Cindy McGovern, in voting in favor of Walmart. "If another grocery had wanted to come here, they could have."
Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio, who like Hosterman, has said she refuses to shop at Walmart because of what she has described as its poor business practices, also supported the Neighborhood Market bid.
"Sometimes it's difficult when we don't like a particular company to make a decision that favors it," Cook-Kallio said. "But our job on the council is to uphold the Constitution. I believe our zoning administrator did exactly what we should do as a council."
Councilman Jerry Thorne also voted in favor of the Walmart application.
"For me, it was a matter of determining if the new store fits the zoning code on the site," he said. "I have found that there's no argument with those documents, no error by the zoning administrator or the Planning Commission, and I move that we deny the (Sullivan) appeal and uphold the staff recommendations."
After the vote, Deborah Herron, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said:
"The decision is good news for Pleasanton customers who want more affordable options for fresh groceries as well as local businesses and Meadows neighborhood residents eager to see the long vacant supermarket at Meadow Plaza revitalized."
"A Walmart Neighborhood Market also represents a business growth opportunity for local suppliers and job creation in the community," she added.
Walmart is expected to file for operating permits for its Neighborhood Market shortly in preparation for making interior improvements to the old Nob Hill supermarket.